LONDON – Former West Indies captain Brian Lara has cast a personal damper on the winning legacy of the West Indies teams of the 1980s and early 1990s.
And in his speech delivered at the annual MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s, the retired batting icon also took a dig at former West Indies bowling greats Michael Holding and Colin Croft.
Suggesting that home match officials were on occasions complicit in West Indies maintaining a record of success during their greatest era, Lara said there were aspects of West Indies cricket then that he found embarrassing.
Lara said he was “embarrassed” when a series of umpiring decisions helped West Indies overcome Pakistan in 1988. In particular, he felt Sir Vivian Richards was fortunate to survive a leg before appeal against Imran Khan and Jeffrey Dujon fortunate to survive an appeal for a catch off Abdul Qadir that could have changed the course of the series.
Lara referred to events in the 1990 series against England as “disturbing” and suggested that seeing his heroes behave in such a manner was “one of the saddest moments in the world”.
“Everyone said England had no chance,” Lara said. “But they won in Jamaica and, in Trinidad, even after rain, had ample time to chase down a small total.
“I had never seen groundsmen and officials fight for Man of the Match. They moved lethargic, slow. If there was a wet spot someone went off the field, they came back with nothing in their hands, they took their time to ensure this game was not going to start anytime soon.
“Eventually, it started with a couple of hours to go and England still had time. We bowled, in one hour, seven overs. It was dark and Graham Gooch had to call his troops from the field and West Indies grabbed a draw.
“This is maybe the most embarrassing moment for me as a young West Indian, watching a West Indies team time-wasting, playing the game in a way it should never, ever be played.
“I was 12th man. I was very, very guilty. I was running out with laces, a banana, water, cough tablets, all sorts of things in that last hour. It was truly embarrassing.”
Lara added: “They went on to Barbados. It was another keenly fought Test and Rob Bailey was batting with not much time to go for a drawn Test. He flicked the ball down the leg side and Jeffrey Dujon dived and collected. The first slip – I’m not going to call his name – ran towards the umpire and signalled. The umpire wasn’t taking him on but he kept going and going and eventually he stuck his finger up and gave Bailey out. It definitely wasn’t out.
The person to whom Lara referred was Sir Vivian Richards, his captain at the time.
“England sort of lost faith in the game. They lost that Test and the next in Antigua for West Indies to win the series 2-1.
“As a West Indian, I was truly embarrassed. As a young cricketer who looked up to a lot of the individuals in the team, it was one of the saddest moments in the world. For me, I felt the West Indies being the best team in the world needed to play cricket in a different way.”
Lara also suggested that such gamesmanship actually damaged Caribbean cricket in the long run. The series’ wins they achieved over Pakistan and England allowed them, Lara claimed, to overlook their flaws that might have been addressed had they lost.
“People talk about the Tests series we lost in 1995 as the time we began to spiral,” Lara said. “I felt we started to spiral years before that when the great players were playing.
“And if Pakistan or England got what they deserved in 1988 and 1990, I feel the West Indies officials would have taken a different look into what to do to save West Indies cricket at a time we had senior players who could have guided the younger players to have ensured we were on the right footing. But that didn’t happen.”
Lara also suggested that he was embarrassed by Holding and Croft’s conduct during the 1980 tour of New Zealand. Referring specifically to that tour, Lara said there were occasions when the tactics employed by the West Indies resulted in them “playing the game in a way it should never, ever be played.”
During the Test at Dunedin mentioned by Lara, Holding kicked down the stumps at the bowlers’ end while Croft barged into umpire Fred Goodall. Their actions followed a series of appeals for clear-cut dismissals which were turned down by the standing umpire.
“I grew up at a time when West Indies dominated the world. For 15 years from 1980, the West Indies never lost a Test series. And just before that, Colin Croft decided he was going to take a piece out of Fred Goodall’s shoulder and ran into him during a Test Match. Michael Holding decided he was no longer a cricketer, he was a footballer and he kicked a stump. I’m sure the occurrences during that period had a big effect on cricket.”
Despite it being a period when people in the Caribbean were “accustomed to victory after victory,” Lara suggested it was a time he was “not very proud of”. The batting icon said that as the highest-ranked team in the world at the time, the West Indies had the responsibility to ensure that the integrity of the game was upheld every single time they played. He added they also had to ensure that the spirit of cricket was with them every time they entered the field.
Lara, 48, played for the West Indies between 1990 and 2007.